Racism Disguised as Paternalism: The Case of Senator Beyak

Racist ideologies can take many forms, depending on the historical circumstances of the societies concerned, the personal views of individuals, and other factors.

Only the most bigoted white supremacists attempt to argue that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was somehow in the best interests of the millions of Africans kidnapped from their homelands to perform brutal unpaid labour in the plantations of the western hemisphere. Similarly, South African apartheid is almost universally condemned as a racist system which denied non-Whites any meaningful human rights, let alone social or economic equality. But even in these cases, there are still a handful who claim that some Blacks benefitted from the slave trade and apartheid, thanks to the “generosity” of the masters who provided meals or limited access to schools or Christian churches. Such are the views of racists who still believe that non-whites are child-like creatures in need of “guidance”.

Some of these racists are die-hard segregationists, struggling to prevent so-called “race mixing” in order to preserve the mythical “purity” of the “white race” – in defiance of scientific knowledge that the concept of a “pure race” is utter nonsense. Others believe in the “assimilationist” strategy – that the best way to “improve the downtrodden races” is to help them overcome backwardness by discarding their shameful dark-skinned status and becoming just as “white” as “mainstream society.”

The latter is essentially a paternalistic ideology, dividing society into the superior white category and the inferior peoples who need to accept the “benefits of civilization”. Within the context of the history of the Canadian colonial state, this ideology has been the prevailing view of the ruling class for centuries, and elements of such thought remain deeply embedded in Canada to this day. This was the thinking behind the push to make Canada a “white man’s country,” which included a range of infamous laws targetting immigrants from China, India, Japan and other Asian countries.

The “white man’s country” ideology began by depriving indigenous peoples of their traditional territories and other forms of genocide. When such efforts failed to wipe out the indigenous peoples, other tactics were developed, notably the Indian residential school system, which was intended to “take the Indian out of the child” by removing entire generations of children from their homes, punishing them for speaking their own languages, and “educating” them to become “Canadians like everyone else.”

After many years of resistance, indigenous peoples finally succeeded in achieving at least partial apologies and compensation for the genocidal residential school system. But true to their views that First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples are “inferior,” some apologists for the residential schools continue to claim that despite problems, these institutions “helped” students to obtain the benefits of civilization. And after all, they say, many of the students were not sexually abused or starved or beaten or left to freeze in drafty dormitories. The majority survived their experiences in such schools, learning to read and write English and become good Christians – so why all the fuss?

Sadly, this is the view expressed by Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak, who (according to the CBC) “mounted a defence of the residential school system for Aboriginal children in the Red Chamber (on March 8), lamenting that the good deeds accomplished by well-intentioned religious teachers have been overshadowed by negative reports documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

Having spoken to some indigenous people who are members of Christian churches, Beyak praised the residential school staff, “whose remarkable works, good deeds and historical tales in the residential schools go unacknowledged for the most part.” She had nothing to say about the findings of the Commission, which found physical, mental and sexual abuse was rampant, and that at least 6,000 children died while in care because of malnourishment or disease. Instead, she expressed disappointment that “the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report didn’t focus on the good.” In her view, that included learning “valuable teachings about Jesus and the Gospel.”

Not surprisingly, Beyak is also a big fan of Pierre Trudeau’s 1969 white paper on Indigenous issues, which proposed doing away with the Indian Act, treaties and eliminating a distinct legal Indian status.

“The leaders of the day called it ‘forced assimilation,’ but I don’t believe that was Trudeau’s intent,” she said. “I think he just wanted us to be Canadians together. The concept was to trade your status card for Canadian citizenship … it was brilliant and revolutionary.”

Of course, for those who see European ethnic origins and white skin colour as the ultimate marks of higher status, it is always “brilliant” to tell others that they should just become “white like us.” And it is never a good idea to pay any attention to the opinions of the child-like brown people, is it Senator Beyak?

Some racists send in the military to slaughter indigenous peoples who get in the way of capitalist progress. Others establish concentration camps to murder “non-Aryans” by the millions. And some, like Senator Beyak, proudly flaunt their superior status as the guiding fundamentalist Christian parents of non-white peoples. In the end, they are all advocates of a genocidal ideology of white supremacy. Senator Beyak should be compelled to resign immediately. Instead, she will likely continue to receive her annual salary of over $145,000 (plus benefits) courtesy of Canadian taxpayers for spreading these poisonous views.

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